Happy Friday, folks! This week we look the past, present and future of technology: a 61-year-old computer that has been brought back to life, tiny robots that play Beethoven and using embedded systems in smartphones to operate personal drone and a piece that highlights Pittsburgh’s future in supercomputing and modeling!
- 61-Year-Old Computer Springs Back to Life
- Tiny Swarming Robots Play Beethoven
- Could Astronauts Use a 3-D Printer to Make Parts from Moon Rocks?
- Smartphones Move Center Stage in Cars, Even Drones
- CMU, PSC Awarded $9.3 Million for Bio Systems Modeling
Halloween has already pasted, but this WITCH is coming back to life!
Any computer history buff knows that in this case, WITCH = Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computation from Harwell. On Tuesday of this week, a museum in the UK restored and then rebooted this massive computer, making it the world’s oldest original working digital computer.
For those of you non-computer history buffs, here’s the download (that was definitely on purpose): WITCH was originally constructed in the ’50s as part of an Atomic Energy Research program and at the time was one of maybe a dozen computers in the world. (Take a listen to WITCH in a BBC video here - sounds like a broken typewriter!)
All together, the computer can store 90 numbers, which is akin to a man with a pocket calculator – however, unlike a pocket calculator, WITCH can operate 24 hours a day without making a mistake.
On another cool note – ANSYS has a connection to the WITCH: it’s is also known as the Harwell Decatron Computer. The computer (according to Wikipedia) was developed by the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE) in Harwell. This is the same establishment that developed an early CFD code that was the predecessor to our CFX software. Here’s how – parts of AERE became UK Atomic Energy Authority in the 90′s and offshoots went public in 1996 to become AEA Technology (along with the staff and the CFDS – early CFX – code). AEA Technology acquired Advanced Scientific Computing in Waterloo and merged the 2 CFD codes to become CFX. The CFX group was then sold to ANSYS in 2003. Whew – that was a mouthful!
If you want to check it out for yourself, WITCH is on display at the National Museum of Computing in Buckinghamshire, north of London.
Although it may not sound like Beethoven at first, it’s impressive to see these Khepera bots in motion as they scoot around a virtual keyboard.
The scientists involved with this research are trying to mimic common swarm behavior in nature (like bees) while making the robots as efficient as possible.
While not yet available to the public, the continued refinement of these bots (probably with simulation) will improve the design and development of the microchips, sensors and processors that make these little guys function properly. What they would be good for around the house, who knows, but I can only imagine the kick children would get out of watching these little bots run around the floor!
3-D printing has seen a surge of popularity recently (I’ve blogged about it in the past) and it was only a matter of time before something like this has come to light.
A team from Washington State University’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering published a paper recently on how to print parts using materials from the moon. When I say parts, I mean things like wrenches or other tools that would be valuable on the moon where there aren’t hardware stores!
Why would they want to do this instead of bringing their own wrench, you might ask? Well, because space travel is so expensive, researchers try to limit what is brought on-board a spacecraft and if we’re trying to fix something in space or build an outpost on another planet, we’ll need materials for that as well.
Simulation plays an integral role when it comes to 3-D printing – the blueprint for the final 3-D product usually comes directly from computer-aided design models, which are then printed layer by layer.
This article is cool, but the bit I like the best is about personal drones that you control with your smartphone or tablet device. Yes, I said personal drone. Embedded systems, something that’s near and dear to our hearts and it takes center stage in this piece. An embedded system is a computer system designed to perform one or a few dedicated functions, often with real-time computing constraints. To give you a better idea, tons of consumer devices have embedded systems and they’re all around you in: cell phones, digital cameras, portable video games, calculators, microwave ovens, home security systems, washing machines, lighting systems, printers, ATMs, anti-lock brakes and many other devices/gadgets.
The embedded systems in this article talk about how we can tap into a smartphone’s embedded system and use it to control all sorts of consumer devices like high-end speakers and wireless headsets – and personal drones.
Check it out!
Pittsburgh is in the spotlight: The University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and Carnegie Mellon University’s were recently awarded a grant of nearly $10 million from the National Institute of Health to establish a biomedical technology research center that will develop computational tools for modeling and simulation biological systems.
This new collaborative initiative will figure out the molecular and cellular mechanisms that control neurotransmission and signaling events, which in turn could lead to the development of novel treatments for nervous system disorders.
Ivet Bahar, principal investigator of the award, said it best: “Until now, experimental scientists have been collecting data that are not testable by computational methods, while the computational scientists have been building models and making predictions that can’t be verified experimentally. We aim to bridge this communication gap, too, so that we can solve relevant problems computationally while generating new hypotheses that can be tested in the lab.”
Have a lovely weekend!